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Thu, Feb 11, 2010

Embry-Riddle To Train Unmanned Aircraft Pilots

Anticipates Increasing Demand For UAV Pilots In The U.S. In Two Years

As early as 2012, thousands of civilian unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) could take to the sky, if the FAA allows them to share U.S. airspace with other aircraft. When that happens, professionals will be needed to operate them remotely, both as pilots and as sensor operators, when they carry video and audio equipment.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is stepping up to fill that need with a new minor in Unmanned Aircraft Systems that begins on the university's Daytona Beach, FL, campus in the fall semester of 2010. The 15-credit minor will consist of five courses: Unmanned Aircraft Systems; Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations and Cross-Country Data Entry; Operational Aspects of Unmanned Aircraft; UAS Robotics; and Unmanned Sensing Systems.

File Photo

Students in the program will learn about the uses of civilian and military UAVs, how to select UAVs for civilian use, regulations governing their operation, and maintenance requirements. When they graduate they will be qualified for jobs as UAV pilots and sensor operators with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Embry-Riddle's Next Generation Advanced Research Lab is developing a virtual-reality air traffic system that will allow students to fly a simulated unmanned aircraft. While unmanned aircraft normally make news for military uses, such as reconnaissance and attack missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, UAVs can also be used for many civilian tasks. UAVs patrol the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada and soon they will monitor the east coast of Florida. They also are used to detect forest fires and relay images to firefighters.

Police forces have envisioned missions for UAVs as well, but the FAA currently restricts their use in civilian areas unless prospective users can prove the UAVs won't be hazardous to airplanes or people on the ground. The approval process can take 45 days.

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"UAVs can do things that are impossible or too dangerous for regular aircraft to do," says Ted Beneigh, who initiated Embry-Riddle's new academic program. "For example, tiny 'insect UAVs' equipped with audio and video sensors can fly through windows and into limited spaces to assist with a rescue or security. In Japan, they're used as crop dusters, and in Canada model airplane-sized UAVs equipped with sensors fly over fields and identify which crops are healthy and which need help."

Beneigh, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle, serves as a technical expert on an FAA-funded research agreement with the university that is laying the groundwork for UAV access to the national airspace system for the FAA.

FMI: www.erau.edu

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